Mission Accomplished

We said goodbye to Amsterdam and proceeded to Schipol Airport with great trepidation. After having four previous sets of reservations cancelled without notice, we were not counting on anything.

But, we were hopeful. We had to be. Another setback was inconceivable.

Our itinerary was not ideal, but we were happy to have boarding passes in hand with Boston, Massachusetts as the final destination. During our evening flight from Amsterdam to Lisbon we watched a long, slow, glowing sunset outside our window and the full moon rise across the aisle. That seemed to bode well for us.

The 3-hour flight was a bit more crowded than I would have liked, but we wiped down the surfaces around us, wore our masks, and kept our distance from others as much as possible.

We had a 21-hour layover in Lisbon, which we mostly spent in an airport hotel. Due to the pandemic only Americans were allowed into the United States, so our plane to Boston held few passengers. That suited us just fine. We had plenty of fresh air and room to spread out.

We did, however, have one more thing to worry about after deplaning. That was the fact that we had overstayed our 90-day non-visa time allowance in the European Union by nearly two months. We were prepared to answer questions at the immigration desk, but none were asked. We breezed through in less than two minutes.

We were finally back on American soil, but our mission was not yet complete. HaRVy was still on a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean. We would not be able to pick him up for nearly three weeks.

Home Sweet Home. We were happy to find everything pretty much in order at our house. We spent our mandatory 14-day quarantine period stocking our pantry (via deliveries and curbside pickups only), pulling lots of weeds, and generally getting settled back in. Nothing ever felt better than that first night back in our own bed!

Once our quarantine period ended, I couldn’t wait to visit my favorite beach in Middletown, RI. We spent a quintessential New England afternoon/early evening complete with lobster rolls for dinner. The fact that we got to spend it with good friends Janne and Jim, socially distanced of course, was a bonus!

Word finally arrived that HaRVy was ready to be picked up at the Port of Baltimore, Maryland. We took a brief early morning flight and were onboard our van again before noon.

We pointed HaRVy north and headed home. We were not in the mood for any more adventures.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED and our odyssey is officially over. Can you hear my huge sigh of relief?

Thank you for following my blog. This might be my last post ever.

Aquatic Amsterdam

Amsterdam is world famous for its stunning 17th century canals. The long waterways with thousands of historical buildings and rows of green trees are a unique sight that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Did you know that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice and more bridges than Paris?

The Cannabis Sativa tour boat.

Close quarters when you live on a canal boat.

The canals of Amsterdam are unique because of the unusual street layout. Most canal cities have a rectangular shape. Here three main canals consist of five kinked straights. Together these form a semicircle around the old medieval city center.

The oldest existing canals were built in the 14th century. In those days the waterway network was primarily constructed to get dry soil. The dug up soil was then used to raise land. The canals were used to dispose of trash and sewage and for transportation of goods.

We had to take a canal boat tour! Luckily they started operating again during our visit, all set up for social distancing. The benches in front, behind, and across from us were empty.

The story about the “Flower Bike Man” appears here.

The collection of the Hetscheepvaart Museum is one of the largest and most notable maritime collections in the world. The tall ship Amsterdam is one of their showpieces.

Captain Al at his post.

King William I commissioned the construction of a royal vessel, a richly decorated rowing sloop was a must have for European monarchs. The Royal Barge was built between 1816 and 1818 at the Navy shipyard in Rotterdam. It has only been used some thirty times for state visits and other official occasions. Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard used the Royal Barge for the last time during the celebration of their silver wedding anniversary in 1962.

The miscellaneous photos that follow complete our explorations of Amsterdam, unplanned but pleasant diversion while waiting for our flights home.

Where else would you expect to find a tulip museum, right?

Circa 19th century delivery bicycle.

21st Century motorized tricycle delivery vehicle. Quite the contrast.

The chapel on the top floor of the Lord of the Attic Museum. During the 17th Century it was prohibited to celebrate mass so some private citizens built chapels in their own homes.

This is purportedly the only one of its kind still in existence.

 

Architectural Amsterdam

We are not architecture buffs, but while walking the streets of Amsterdam, one can’t help but get interested in learning more about the beautiful buildings. A two-hour tour with CityLoop really enhanced our experience.

I got lucky with the light and reflection for this photo. The next day this same scene was quite dull.

This monumental building was erected in 1895 to be Amsterdam’s Main Post Office. It is part of the Top 100 Dutch heritage sites and currently houses a stunning shopping mall.

The only thing we bought here was masks… and not the fun kind.

The Royal Palace Amsterdam is King Willem-Alexander’s official reception palace. It is the largest and most prestigious building from the Golden Age, making it one of the Netherlands’ most important monuments.

Dam Square is normally jam packed with tourists and locals. Not so much during our visit, as things were just beginning to open up again after the Coronavirus shutdown. Its notable buildings and frequent events make it one of the most well-known and important locations in the city and the country.

Crews only have three hours each morning to load up construction materials.

An exemplary building I found attractive. If I’d taken notes during our tour I could tell you more about the decorative gable at the top. I can, however, tell you about that hook. Not a decoration, the hook is there to enable residents to pull large, bulky objects up and into a window at the proper floor. Most of the buildings also lean forward a few inches to aid this process.

The city’s skinniest building.

Since the ground beneath Amsterdam is very soft, many buildings are built on wooden pilings. These wooden beams were pounded into a deeper layer of sand that is solid enough to bear the weight. A stone foundation was built on top of those pilings. Above is an example of a job not very well done…hence the tilt.

I do remember that this multi-family dwelling (can you find the four entry doors?) has a step gable. The purpose of all the gables was to disguise the sharp pitch of the roof line.

A slightly more modern neighborhood designed to fit in with the historic aesthetic.

The architect of this five-story modern house had her work cut out for her on this tiny odd shaped lot.

Our CityLoop tour guide pointing out the direction contemporary architecture is taking in Amsterdam. The dramatic population growth demands more density.

Next up: Aquatic Amsterdam

Absurd Amsterdam

Amsterdam was never in our plans and we’d been busy since we got the news that we now had to fly home from here, so I had not done any research on what we should see and do here. I did find time to book a room in a delightful boutique hotel at the edge of the Red Light District, thanks to booking.com. The Hotel Lexer, a short walk from Central Station with many attractions nearby, served us well. The staff was friendly and helpful and the room clean and quiet with a very comfortable bed. What more could we want during our unintended five day visit?

It is extremely rare for the streets of Amsterdam to be this empty mid-summer, but our arrival coincided with things beginning to open up again after the Covid shut down. We felt very fortunate to be here during this brief period. Even just five days later it was starting to get crazy again. This shot was taken right outside our hotel.

The following photos were all taken on our first walk through our neighborhood. What a wacky place!

We did do more serious sight seeing on the following days, but I felt the need to share these.

Just A Few More Stops

We proceeded north through France seeking free camping sites in scenic locations on our mission to deliver HaRVy to the docks in Antwerp, Belgium,

A nice shady campsite next to the River Loire in La Chapelle Saint Mesmin near Orleans, France.

We took an early evening walk along the river.

This charming stone house was pretty much the highlight, not a terribly interesting area.

View from campsite in Oissel, France on the Seine River.

A nice quiet spot, except for the church bells and a few somewhat rowdy locals.

This campsite behind the dunes at Stella Plage, France is the only place we stayed two different times during our 14-month journey.

Being at a beach during the summer is rare for us. I celebrated by taking a dip. We usually prefer off-season travel to avoid the crowds.

Camped canal side among the sculptures in Eeklo, Belgium.

There were dozens of sculptures here, we did not learn why.

The ice cream man came to the camping area. Since he had scoop ice cream we just had to indulge!

We spent two nights at a campground in Lembeke, Belgium so we could do laundry, take showers and begin preparing HaRVy for his trip back across the Atlantic. Our flight home was to take place a few days later from Brussels.

While we were there, just 3 days before we were to drop off HaRVy, I learned that our flight reservations had been CANCELLED FOR A FOURTH TIME!!! After nearly an hour on the phone with TAP Airlines the representative told me that the next flight available out of Brussels was on July 23rd! No way we wanted to wait around for another month! We wanted to go home.

Once the shock subsided a bit, I asked about availability out of Amsterdam, which I knew was an inexpensive 2-hour train ride from Antwerp. After another long wait the rep came back with very good news – we could fly from Amsterdam to Lisbon on July 4, stay overnight, and fly direct from Lisbon to Boston on July 5.

At this point, we knew that absolutely nothing was certain, but we proceeded as if it were, holding on to the belief that plans just had to work out this time.

Our last campsite in Temse, Belgium was one of convenience. It was an easy 40-minute drive the dock. Here we spent several more hours doing the final preparations and packing.

HaRVy’s propane tank was emptied for the crossing, so we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. This beautiful building used to be City Hall, but is now a special events center.

These gentlemen were property masked, although many humans we encountered were not.

Our new best friends, Fons and Nady, who we met through Boondockers Welcome, live nearby. I had been communicating with them for several weeks and they had provided much valuable information and situation updates. They greeted us upon arrival and brought some bubbly to share, later in the afternoon after our work was complete.

The next morning they led us to the dock with their car, helped with language translation in the office there, waited the two hours it took us to drop off HaRVy, drove us to the train station, and even helped us purchase tickets, figure out where to board, and much more.

I can’t express how grateful we were to have their assistance during this stressful time. We have met so many generous people during this odyssey. The kindness of strangers has been deeply appreciated.

Next up: A few days in Amsterdam.

 

Crossing France

Europe seems small when you compare it to the United States, but it still takes a while to cross countries. Especially if you drive slowly and want to see some sights.

We next stayed with a Boondockers Welcome host in Bergerac, France in the Bordeaux Region.

The Dordogne River runs near our hosts’ home.

There’s just something about the shades of blue in France.

Cyrano de Bergerac was an innovative author, his work was part of the libertine literature of the first half of the seventeenth century. The town of Bergerac pays homage to him in several ways.

Medieval half timbered houses line the lanes in this incredibly picturesque town.

Our warm, welcoming hosts at their lovely home. Thank you both for a very pleasant, albeit brief, stay.

Our hosts suggested visiting a place we never heard of that proved to be very interesting – the preserved ruins of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane.

Oradour-sur-Glane was the site of a particularly brutal atrocity during World War II. The entire village was destroyed and its inhabitants killed by German troops on June 10, 1944. I felt the images had more impact shown in black and white.

What’s left of the church where the town worshiped and many women and children were killed.

A spark of color amongst all the gray.

I will leave you to ponder that scene.

 

 

 

Back Onboard

It’s been over a month since my last post, but OH, what a month it’s been! To quickly bring you up to date, we did finally make it back to our home in the USA. Currently under quarantine as our state requires, but both feeling well and ready to face the “new normal” next week.

Now to fill in what you missed.

WE’RE OFF! On June 18th we said our final farewells to Casa del Ingles and our wonderful hosts Ren and Chris.

And Fox too, of course. He actually looked a little sad to see us go.

HaRVy makes his last climb up the driveway, and we’re off!

Behind the wheel and back onboard again after 87 days in lockdown! Goodbye to beautiful Cantabria, Spain.

We proceeded with great apprehension, but the borders were opening up so it was time to go. We had 11 days before we were scheduled to drop HaRVy off at the docks in Antwerp, Belgium. Our flight out of Brussels was a few days later. Given all the holdups and cancellations we’d experienced recently, we were not betting on anything. We weren’t really in the mood for adventure, but we made the best out of the time we had left.

After three months in the hills, we both wanted to see the ocean again. We drove directly to the north coast.

Gaztelugatxe is an islet on the coast of Biscay connected to the mainland by a man-made bridge. On top of the island stands a hermitage. Unfortunately, this was as close as we could get since access was still closed down due to Covid-19.

Al in his happy place. At the beach (Playa del Bakio) with coffee ice cream in hand.

Our free camping spot was nearby so we walked back out to watch the surfers as the sun set.

The next afternoon we camped above the beach near Anglet, France.

We had been a little concerned about crossing into France since the border would not be officially open for another couple of days. We were stopped, but once we explained that we were on our way to Antwerp to ship our vehicle back to the United States, they let us proceed.

More surfers at sunset.

Low tide at the historic old harbor in Biarritz, France.

We thought this would be our last European beach as our route next took us inland across France.

 

 

Biding Time

News Flash: Our return has been delayed AGAIN! A third set of reservations was cancelled shortly after my last post. Early July flights are now booked from Brussels to Boston via Lisbon and the Azores. Not the greatest itinerary, but at this point, we will take what we can get. Definitely not counting on anything, but much of Europe has opened up so we are cautiously optimistic. With relaxed travel restrictions, driving HaRVy to Antwerp for shipping home shouldn’t feel as stressful as it would have two or three weeks ago.

For now we are mostly biding our time. The weather has not been ideal. We had a few really nice summer-like days but those have been followed by nearly two weeks of cool temperatures under drizzly gray skies. We are far from miserable, but real joy is a bit difficult to come by. Three months in one place is more than enough.

I take my phone camera out nearly every day in search of beautiful things. A sampling of the small wonders I have found follows.

Anyone know what flies find so delicious on Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms?

Have you ever seen a colony of baby snails? These should be ready to eat in five years or so.

Al checks up on HaRVy every day. We might actually start packing up our belongings next week. For a while I wasn’t sure that would ever happen. Again, not holding my breath.

Our hosts Chris and Renee are avid cyclists. You must be to want to ride around here, the hills are killer. Their fortitude and stamina has impressed us.

Here they are in a more relaxed pose at the beach they took us to one evening. I never expected to fall in love with a Chihuahua, but Fox is great fun.

These formations reminded us of the Mono Lake Tufas in California.

On the way back from the beach we encountered this slow mooving traffic.

We try to get out for at least a short walk every day. Sometimes that entails dodging cloudbursts.

As beautiful as this area is, I am ready to leave it behind…hopefully soon,

One Step Forward

Two Steps Back…?

The good news first – HaRVy survived and is back with us!

The bad news is that our second set of flight reservations was cancelled. Fortunately, we found this out before departing our cozy Spanish abode.

We were meant to be dropping HaRVy off at the dock in Antwerp tomorrow and flying back to the US next week. As much as the thought of being back at home feels comforting, this actually may not have been a good time to make that journey. One must have an “essential” reason to cross country borders, plus campgrounds and other facilities remain closed. In addition, the thought of spending hours in airports and on airplanes is still a bit disconcerting as is the overall situation with the virus in the United States. Our hope, as well as everyone else’s I’m sure, is that the overall situation will improve over the next few weeks.

We now have reservations to ship HaRVy and fly ourselves home during the last week of June. In the meantime, we have a bit more freedom to wander. I now get to do my own grocery shopping. What a joy that is…NOT! I rather enjoyed having my own personal shopper. Renée did a great job for us and we are extremely grateful for all her help and generosity.

Our first hike of any consequence took us up and over the nearby hilltop. These pretty ladies sure have a nice view towards the coast.

Our next hike took us alongside an extensive eucalyptus forest. Love that smell! Reminds me of my childhood in Southern California.

Plenty of abandoned cabañas for sale here. The price is right, but the work needed is extensive.

We often stop to feed a couple of carrots to our resident horse, Urania.

You know how most places you visit have that saying, “If you don’t like the weather now, wait five minutes”? That is definitely true here. Different sorts of weather flood in and out from every direction several times a day. It’s quite an amazing spectacle.

This little guy was born last week, the night before I shot this photo. Those are some strong legs, although he did not yet have complete control over them.

Renée took these aerial shots with her drone on a recent brilliant day.

Now that more than one person can ride in a car, our hosts have provided a couple of tours of the local area. This valley is located just over the hill from where we are staying.

On the way home from the grocery store, Renée took me on a little off-road detour.

This is the view from the road across the valley back towards their Casa del Ingles. You can just about make it out straight up from the roof of the building in the foreground.

It’s been nice to get out and about a bit, but there’s really not much going on. Al has been keeping busy organizing the content on his computer. He actually resurrected mine, which we gave up for dead a few months ago. We get out for at least one walk a day and I’ve been utilizing Zoom to take yoga and strength training classes with friends back home in Rhode Island. I am now more grateful for the Internet than ever . Staying in touch via Facebook, Instagram and email along with all the entertainment options available is keeping me (somewhat) sane during this trying time.

How are you doing? I’d love to know what you’ve been up to.

 

Waiting

♪  I am waiting, I am waiting  ♫
Oh yeah, Oh yeah
Jagger/Richards

I’m writing this post on our 40th day of “lockdown” in the rural hills of Northern Spain. Spanish regulations, plus the fact that we currently have no vehicle, require us to stay on the property. Our gracious hosts do the grocery shopping for us.

Welcome to our home-away-from-home near Secadura. Al is at the doorway to our studio apartment unit. Our hosts created a lovely accommodation in the space where prior owners’ livestock used to live. We were their first guests. They had been preparing for a busy tourist season before CV-19 struck.

Renée and Chris, have a comfortable home on the upper floor. This spacious deck off their living room has a magnificent view. The silo is being restored for use as another holiday let.

Renée and Chris did a lot of the work themselves, including massive amounts of tiling.

We have everything we need to be comfortable with the bonus of peaceful surroundings. We were very fortunate to find this beautiful hideaway.

My first look out our window. This couple lives nearby and organically farms several surrounding acres.

Renée and Chris hope to grow a lot of their own veggies as well.

This sweet little sunken garden lies where a shed once stood.

Al soaks up a bit of sun in the warmth of that sunken garden area.

Diversions are necessary during these times and I’ve been playing Scrabble, Boggle, Cribbage and other games. Dave (at left) is quite a keen game player, so we got together most every afternoon until a few days ago when he decided to go back home to England. Note the terrible letters on my rack = FIVE E’s!

For those concerned about our close proximity, the five of us have been sequestered together for several weeks. Much like a family. Only one person does the grocery shopping and everything is wiped down upon delivery.

The beautiful vistas plus a little wine help keep stress at bay too. Cheers!

View from their very steep driveway. We walk up every day for a bit of exercise and fresh air. I have also been taking exercise and yoga classes with my friends back in Rhode Island thanks to the Internet and Zoom app.

Told you it was steep!

During our walks I often collect wildflowers that help brighten our apartment and my mood.

This beautiful view greets us when we take the trash up to the public wheelie bin at the top of the hill.

The lower half of their driveway was a bit rugged when we arrived.

Just a few days and several truck loads later it is now significantly improved.

A bit of manual labor was required to smooth out the rough spots.

Here, at nearly 1,000-feet in altitude, the weather is constantly changing. It’s fun to watch the clouds and fog roll over the hills and into the canyons.

We even had a bit of snow, just two days after we were told that it never snows here (Ha!).

You may have noticed a horse in the distance of some of my photos. Here’s her glamour shot. Urania belongs to a neighbor but she’s helping keep the grass under control on Chris and Renée’s property.

I’ve always got my phone camera ready to capture the wildlife!

Off to the wheelie bin with the trash.

Same window view …different days.

 

So, here we wait.

We wait to hear the final verdict on HaRVy’s repair.

We wait for lockdown restrictions to be lifted so we can pick up HaRVy and hit the road again.

We wait to see if the reservations we’ve made to ship HaRVy and fly ourselves back to the USA will be usable.

And, we wait with the rest of the world to see where CV-19 leads us all.

♪  I am waiting, I am waiting  ♫
Oh yeah, Oh yeah